On Lake Chiemsee, birds live an excellent life. This also got about with species that were not present up until a few years ago. The observation stations offer great sightings, especially during the quiet winter time. Text and photos: Dietmar Denger
Bird wedding at lake Chiemsee
In the early morning, the fog in the Grabenstätter Moos has almost absorbed the reeds and the gnarled willows. However, the fresh tree pond cannot be overlooked. Directly on the bumpy bike trail to Hirschau Bay, the perpetrator did all the work at night and skilfully milled the trunk near the ground.
The delinquent disappeared, but left its mark – a pile of wood shavings and flattened grass that leads straight to the old drainage ditch. The width of the lane suggests a noticeably chubby rioter.
“The beavers have been back on Lake Chiemsee for a few years now”, says Johannes Kern, who has often caught the Hirschau giant rodent red-handed. The chance is greatest in the evening after sunset, claims the carpenter from Amerang, who has been intensively photographing, observing and listening to nature on the lake for 20 years. In preparation for a multimedia lecture, he stands on the wooden observation tower in the Hirschauer Bucht this morning and holds the fluffy microphone into the fog.
The lake shore is lined with thick tree trunks, which the Tyrolean Achen brought with them from the mountains when the last snow melted and piled up like Mikado sticks here in the Achen Delta. The scene could easily also be in Canada. Or in Lapland.
A dozen whooper swans, emerging from the wisps of mist over the lake fit this image well. The yellow-white balls of feathers are winter guests from Scandinavia and have for a few years chosen Lake Chiemsee as a refuge during the cold season.
The foehn of the past few days largely made the ice on the lake disappear and the temperatures have risen to T-shirt level. For a swan of the far north that got used to the cold, the trip to Bavaria probably feels like a Caribbean vacation for us.
Ruddy shelduck, great egret – and white-tailed eagle?
Gabbling and honking away with appropriate exuberance. A great egret stalks long-legged through the water close to the bank, behind that a no less elegant grey heron. Great egrets have been around Lake Chiemsee since the 1970s, says the hobby ornithologist Kern, some regularly pull big pike out of the water.
The great egret is also sometimes satisfied with little fish
This morning they are satisfied with little fish. Kern is already excited about his yield this morning and hopes for further sightings: “Maybe you can see ospreys or white-tailed eagles later on.”
You don’t even need your own binoculars to see the spectacular lake fauna. The permanently installed telescope from a premium manufacturer makes birdwatching so vivid and brilliant, as if they were puffing up right in front of you – and all that without having to insert a coin! So you don’t even feel like getting off the path leading up to the tower. You can’t miss the signs indicating the strictly protected quiet areas.
You should also take a look at the QR code affixed to the tower on the ornitho.de page, where bird fans upload their current observations for all stations on the lake. The list is astonishing. Except for the whooper swan group, Delta currently seems to be popular with geese: Ruddy shelduck, greylag goose and brandy barnacle goose were recently sighted here.
The rebirth of the biotopes
The Hirschau Bay was quite a bustling swimming area in the 1970s. A time when Lake Chiemsee did not yet have a circular sewer system and the insecticide DDT was not only causing problems for the environment and people, but especially for the bird life in Bavaria. A lot has happened since then.
As early as 1976, the lake communities joined the international Ramsar Convention, which has set itself the task of protecting waterbirds and waders – in good company with world-famous animal paradises such as Etosha in Namibia or the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
In 1980, on behalf of the EU, the International Council for Bird Protection put the “Bavarian Sea” at the top of the list of outstanding areas for bird protection, and in 1992, Lake Chiemsee became a “Special Protection Area” in the EU’s bird protection guidelines.
"The home-based identity of landscapes"
And then came Dirk Alfermann in 2014. The biologist is now one of 56 area regional managers who take care of the preservation of sensitive nature reserves in Bavaria. Many call the Lake Chiemsee attendant Ranger, he says. “It sounds cool, but my work goes far beyond that.”
Alfermann sees himself as a link between nature conservation and humans and tries to reconcile the concerns of beavers, herons & co. with those of agriculture and tourism. He also promotes “a home-based identity of landscapes” during guided tours and lectures, as he puts it.
Bird drive-in: Peep show at the A8 Autobahn
The responsibility is great. After all, Lake Chiemsee with its surroundings up to the edge of the Alps is the home of 147 breeding bird species. For comparison: There are only a few more species in Bavaria with an estimated 207 species. If you add migrants and winter guests such as the whooper swan and pintail, you even get to 300 species.
No wonder that during such a peep show, the observation towers are visited by ornithologists all year round. Those who want to be fully comfortable can experience the gabble in a drive-in: The parking lot at the A8 near Bernau is spectacular because Lake Chiemsee is literally within reach. On top of that, there is a great variety of birds bustling around on the water. They are barely impressed by the traffic noise – including many seagulls that are after the snacks of the people who stop at the rest area.
Flamingo, northern lapwing, and the grunting of water rails
Flamingo? He probably escaped from a private zoo years ago
The weirdest bird at the lake prefers it a little calmer. At the Irschener Bay between Bernau and Prien, where this morning swarms of coots cavort and cormorants crouch on dead wood to dry their feathers, the Chile flamingo looks a bit lost. The pink long neck stands on one leg in the shallow bank area and offers a nice contrast to the farms in the background. It is believed that the animal escaped from a private zoo near Salzburg years ago, says Alfermann.
However, he himself has other favourites in the bird world, real Bavarians. “The northern lapwing with its great courtship. Or the great crested grebe, which you can see almost everywhere on the lake and which displays a really special mating game in early spring. And, of course, the kingfisher due to its special plumage and its behaviour when hunting fish.”
The colourful kingfishers cavort mainly on the shore trees of the Prien, shortly before it flows into Lake Chiemsee. This morning, only common teals chill on the shores and a trio of barnacle geese is enjoying the black-and-white feather coat – they too are escapees from a private breeder.
At the lake inflow, the Prien has raised gravel banks where the little ringed plover or the common tern feel comfortable. And you shouldn't be surprised at the squeaking piglet noises from the sign behind it. The pig-like sound comes from the rather inconspicuous water rail.
At the north bank: Bird life with Alpine panorama
At Seebruck on the north bank, the unobstructed mountain view joins the twittering and honking. The snow-white Alpine panorama rises on the horizon and the midday sun sucked away the last fog banks. The common curlew enjoys the mountain view and the undisturbed breeding grounds, says the regional manager, Alfermann. In general, at every observation station you have the feeling of being at a different lake, so varied are the sceneries.
“In Chieming, on the observation platform on the west side of the lake, the winter months are particularly rewarding, as you have a perfectly good chance of spotting black-throated or red-throated divers overlooking the wide-open lake.” This afternoon, mainly human lake visitors cavort on the wide pebble beach.
And the different seasons also have great surprises in store at the towers and platforms. “At the Hirschau Bay and in the Irschener Winkel, you can see breeding great crested grebes and coots in the water lily fields in spring and summer”, enthuses Alfermann, “in August and September, when the water level is low, there are also various shorebirds that look for food with their long beaks in the mud. In winter, it is mainly green ducks that rummage through the shallow bays for food.”
Protected zones and path barriers – and shhh!
In order not to disturb the bird life, Dirk Alfermann asks that one should avoid the protection zones at all costs, even on the water. “They were selected after many years of birdwatching and mapping and serve the birds as a place of rest and retreat during the breeding and rearing period, but also during the large plumage moult, when the birds are unable to fly.”
The road closures, especially in the meadow breeding season from the beginning of March to the end of June, are also important. And the quieter you are on top of the towers, the greater the chances of getting very close to even the most spectacular Lake Chiemsee residents. For example, the white-tailed eagle that particularly likes to stay in the Achen Delta. You will most likely spot it from the tower in the Hirschauer Bay or from the nearby Lachsgang.
Later that day, hobby birder Johannes Kern also saw the osprey up close, as he said on the phone. He has not posted it on ornitho.de, “otherwise there will be masses of people in the meadow tomorrow”. Note: Bird lovers like to keep their best secrets to themselves. That’s why it is best to go on this journey of discovery yourself!
Bird tours on Lake Chiemsee
During the free bird tours, you’ll meet up with the guide at one of the ten observation stations. Lake Chiemsee is not just a bird paradise. The nature experience guides offer exciting tours to the dragonflies, bats and beavers around the lake.